Until comparatively recently Sheffield was a very English city, rather insular and parochial, but now it is undoubtedly cosmopolitan. One in five of the population is of ethnic minority heritage, according to the 2011 census.
That is the starting point for David Price’s Welcome to Sheffield: A Migration History which aims to help Sheffielders of all kinds to have a better understanding of the various ethnic groups.
Welcome to Sheffield is an optimistic title, he says, but the book shows that their experience has been mixed.
With a few exceptions like the Jews, the Irish and some Continentals, there was little immigration until after the Second World War and the greatest flows have come since 2000.
“What Sheffield is now is super-diverse. If you compare it with other big cities it has diversity rather than a concentration of one ethnicity,” explains the author. “In 2012 it was said there were 120 different languages spoken in Sheffield schools.”
There is a whole range of nationalities and this has accelerated with the influx of asylum seekers and those from Eastern Europe.
“The last three decades a series of refugee groups have arrived such as Ugandan Asians, Vietnamese, Chilean and some Somalis and Yemenis because of civil war. And latterly Kosovans,” continues Price.
“That’s in comparison to the immediate post-war years of economic migrants, mainly from the Commonwealth. There was a chain migration where people went to a place where they knew people from their own country. After the 1970s when industry was in decline you lose a sense of economic migration.
“Of the political refugees, the arrival of the Chileans was the smoothest. Theirs was a cause dear to left-wing Sheffield and they were well looked after.
“With the sort of migration we are seeing now it is less easy to identify with a cause,” he suggests.
That’s not to say there isn’t one. “Through doing this work I have become aware of a lot of countries where people who speak out or are critical of the government get into big trouble and become refugees. You wonder how it can all be changed.”
David Price is a retired civil servant who moved to Sheffield in 1980 with the Manpower Services Commission.
A history graduate from Cambridge University he resumed his interest in the subject in his retirement with three previous books, Office of Hope chronicling public employment service in Britain, Sheffield Troublemakers – Rebels and Radicals in Sheffield History and the History of St Mark’s church in Broomhill to which he and his wife belong.
He has also taken an interest in issues such as unemployment, poverty, asylum and migration which have fed into the book through his involvement with Church Action in Poverty which formed a group in Sheffield in 2001 and subsequently South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG..
“When I started meeting asylum-seekers and refugees and got interested I thought I should put it in a book. I think it’s important people in Sheffield have more understanding of where the migrants come from and why they come and how they get on once they are here.”
The book, produced in association with City of Sanctuary Sheffield, can be obtained via firstname.lastname@example.org for £12 (postage and packing £2.70) and other outlets.